Mark Milligan of Australia battles for the ball with Jose Paulo of Brazil during an international friendly in June.
Mark Milligan of Australia battles for the ball with Jose Paulo of Brazil during an international friendly in June. JOE CASTRO

Socceroos given extra motivation by Japan rivalry

SOCCEROOS past and present say Japan is the biggest rival we have.

And as Asia's powerhouse nations prepare to battle again in Thursday's cut-throat World Cup qualifier in Saitama, one of Australia's current stars says the team has extra motivation to go to enemy territory and win.

The cricketers have the Ashes against England, the Wallabies have the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand.

And while there is no trophy on the line for the Socceroos against the Japanese, the bragging rights are no less significant.

The first of the 24 matches against each other was at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, which Australia won 2-0.

But it was at the 2006 World Cup where the rivalry really exploded, with Australia having just moved from Oceania to Asia.

Japan took an early lead through Shunsuke Nakamura before Tim Cahill cemented himself in Australian football history by scoring our first World Cup goal in the 84th minute and then stepping up again with a stunning go-ahead strike in the 89th minute.

A third from John Aloisi in injury time secured Australia's first World Cup win.

Cahill has been a prominent force in these clashes. He's scored five goals in total, including another brace in the 2009 World Cup qualifying win at the MCG.

But that result was the last time the Socceroos beat the Samurai Blue, which indicates Australia hasn't had it all its own way.

Overall the record stands at seven wins for Australia, eight for Japan and nine draws.

But not once has Australia won in Japan, which is something vice-captain Mark Milligan said would be a huge achievement for his team next week.

Not least because of the state of the standings with two qualifiers remaining.

With just a point separating Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia in the battle for two automatic qualification slots, a loss in Saitama for either side could send it to the dreaded playoffs.

"So you speak about motivation, I don't think anyone needs to motivate us for this game," Milligan said.

"For a long time they've been very successful and in Asia they're still probably viewed as the top dog and we definitely want that mantle.

"That's why I think the rivalry is strong."

Josh Kennedy has experience on both sides of the fence having spent six seasons at Japanese club Nagoya Grampus.

While many Australian players place the Japan rivalry above all others, the retired striker insists the rivalry is just as keenly felt over there.

"We are their biggest threat to dethrone them in Asia as the No.1 team," Kennedy said.

"The way we view them, as players, is that if we see ourselves as No.1 in Asia, we see them as No.2 ... and that's probably how they see us.

"From those early battles, there's that relationship to say 'we look forward to playing you, that's the biggest game of our year'."